The Lost Art Of Fermentation

(photo by Natalie Rhea)

I think we're all familiar with yogurt and pickles, some of the historically fermented foods that are still popular despite a decline in traditional diets. But there's a whole world beyond that jar of pickles in the grocery store aisle. From carrots to garlic, apples to cranberries, there's endless possibilities for foods we can ferment and create the nutritionally dense meals as possible.

What is it?
Lacto-fermentation is a natural process by which the bacteria Lactobacillus feeds off sugar and starches found in foods.  This produces lactic acid as a byproduct, and gives fermented food that signature acidic, tangy flavor.

A lost tradition
But sadly, with the abandonment of traditional food preparation and the rise of industrial food production, fermentation has become somewhat of a lost art. It's a practice that seems to become less popular with every generation.
Pickles were always traditionally fermented, but now the kind you'll find in a grocery store are just soaked in a vinegar solution to give it that classic sour flavor. They may taste similar, but in terms of health benefits, they're just a cheap copy. But fermented foods have always been a part of a traditional diet. From Cultures for Health,
The diets of every traditional society have included some kind of lacto-fermented food. Europeans consume lacto-fermented dairy, sauerkraut, grape leaves, herbs, and root vegetables. The Alaskan Inuit ferment fish and sea mammals. The Orient is known for pickled vegetables, sauces, and kimchi in particular. Farming societies in central Africa are known for porridges made from soured grains.

The benefits of fermented foods
In the past, fermenting food was more practical than anything. It was a means of storage and preservation. But we now know that there's an abundance of benefits that comes from the process.
Fermented foods...

  • Produce beneficial probiotics and enzymes, improving digestion and promoting a healthier gut flora. 
  • Act as a natural preservative. Refrigerators have only been around for so long, and people needed ways to keep and preserve food before then. By fermenting certain foods, you deter harmful bacteria and allowing food to be stored for long periods of time. 
  • Just taste better! They turn raw cabbage into zesty sauerkraut and milk whey into tangy yogurt. Sour pickles? Yes please. Foods are more fun when they're fermented. 
  • Break down lactose in dairy. So if you have issues with lactose-intolerance, full-fat, grass-fed yogurt might be your new best friend. 
  • Magically make soy healthy. Raw soy is a known hormone-disruptor, but when properly fermented (like traditional Japanese natto) it becomes a full-on health food. Although, I've heard it's a bit slimy in texture... just a heads up. 
  • Can be cheap when made at home. Eating "healthy" can sometimes be expensive, but making your own fermented foods at home is good for your body and your wallet. 

How to make your own
It's crazy and fascinating to me that there's possibility to increase the nutritional content of our food literally all around us. We just have to utilize it. Sally Fallon says: "These lactobacilli are ubiquitous, present on the surface of all living things and especially numerous on leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. Man needs only to learn the techniques for controlling and encouraging their proliferation to put them to his own use, just as he has learned to put certain yeasts to use in converting the sugars in grape juice to alcohol in wine."
So let's take advantage of it! I swear homemade sauerkraut is literally the easiest thing to make in the world. (Right behind PB&J) Here's a running list on how to make your own:

I've also written a bit more about kombucha a water kefir hereAnd here's a whole archive of recipes for fermenting food.


(photo by Tanalee Youngblood)
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